OCALA, Fla. – When you hear about a company on the front line of cutting edge technology, you’d probably think they’re based in a big tech-centric city like New York, Seattle, Palo Alto, or even Austin. But Ocala, Florida?
Taking up residence in the Power Plant Business Incubator in downtown Ocala, Dimension Works LLC is nowhere as big a tech giant as Google, Apple, or Amazon. And because of its size, there are no upper-level executives, hordes of workers or an assembly line processes. Jeff and Mindy Beegle, a husband and wife team, call all the shots.
Dimension Works is among a small group of companies in Florida that are full-service 3D print houses. Need something scanned for a computer file Check. Want to print a prototype for an upcoming product? Not a problem. Need a million-dollar printer to supplement your production floor? They can get that for you.
For anyone unfamiliar with the process, 3D printing is what it sounds like. Instead of using a traditional ink printer to create a two-dimensional flat object like a document, a magazine or a book, 3D printing uses special machinery to create a three-dimensional object. The “ink” of a 3D printer can be filament, powder-like substances, liquid resin and even nylon. Almost anyone can own one: printers cost as little as several hundred dollars and run all the way up to $1 million.
News 6 recently interviewed Dimension Works Vice President Mindy Beegle, to talk about the current state and future of 3D printing. Here’s some of the more interesting things discussed, edited down and formatted.
WKMG: In its simplest term, what exactly is 3D printing? How would you explain to somebody like your mom, your dad, someone who doesn't know anything about it?
Mindy Beegle: 3D printing is an additive way of manufacturing. Whatever it is that you are building, you build it up in layers. So imagine that you are building an object and you slice it horizontally and you build each of those layers one layer at a time by laying down material. 3D printing is generating something in three dimensions. When you print the layers, each layer is half the thickness of a sheet of office paper.
WKMG: Can a regular person off the street come to you to print something?
Mindy Beegle: Yes, absolutely. People often have something that's got sentimental value or special to them that they want us to recreate. And there is work that goes into that to make that happen.
WKMG: And to create something, you have to create a modeling file, right?
Mindy Beegle: Any printer has to have input of what it is that you're printing. That 3D model has to either be provided by our customers or we can create that for them and help them model what it is they want to print.
WKMG: And you can take it from an idea all the way too ‘I'm holding something in my hand'?
Mindy Beegle: Right. You can go from something like a 2D sketch or 2D drawing all the way to you've got the object there in front of you.
WKMG: Where are you going to be a year, two years, three years, five years from now?
Mindy Beegle: I think for 3D printing, it's all about the materials and what types of things will be developed in the future. Right now, things are being developed around 3D printed food and 3D printed human tissue. Houses are another thing that come up and what materials make sense there for printing. So I think for us, it's all about what materials will be developed and how can you apply those to new ways to do things.
Mindy Beegle: Yeah - we are helping customers understand what they can do differently and how can they apply printing to what they're doing to change their business. When you melt chocolate it's more fluid. You can lay that down in the layer and build up in a certain shape of food. There's companies that are doing things with 3D printed pasta. It's specialty pasta shapes for whatever you may want to do for your event.
WKMG: And houses?
Mindy Beegle: People get really excited when they hear that you can 3D print a house and we hear people get excited about that all the time. But there's a lot more to it when you think about a house. It's not just the shell; there's plumbing to think about, there's electricity to think about. There's the roof. And how do you get that roof on top of the house? And so I think where they are now in housing is ... to help with a temporary housing emergency, shelters, those types of things. But then how do they move past that to get it into a finished house that's livable? Something you and I would want to live in today?
WKMG: This is new to you because you've only been doing this three years?
Mindy Beegle: When we started the business, we had some experience with prototyping and printing and understood the value it could bring to new product development.
WKMG: It's not for everybody because it's kind of a specialized thing?
Mindy Beegle: 3D printing for us is really about working with manufacturers that are looking to bring a new product to life. Some people think of it as simply pushing a button to recreate something that I have here in my hand. But it's really about taking a model that you have and getting that brought to life to see what changes you want to make or to validate your design before you go to production.
WKMG: What’s the most intricate or coolest thing you’ve printed?
Mindy Beegle: In terms of intricacy, the printers can get down to a 50 micron detail which is a pretty intricate piece. And then in terms of the coolness factor, I think one of my favorite things is probably some of the bones that we've printed. I think those are pretty cool that they are being used for surgeries and preparation for surgeons as they get ready to go in to surgery with a patient.
WKMG: What would a doctor do with the bone like that?
Mindy Beegle: It's a practice piece so they can get a feel for what's going on with the patient's bone before going in to surgery and make sure that they're prepared with what they need to do in terms of the repair that they're doing on the patient.
WKMG: How long does it take to print a bone?
Mindy Beegle: A few hours in terms of a print but then they have to go to processing. It's going to be a week before we're going to get something to them. But it's not done for every patient.
WKMG: You don't just work with one material, do you?
Mindy Beegle: Everything we focus on is some type of plastic material. There are some materials that are hybrids, so you can have plastic mixed with wood or plastic mixed with metal. You would post process that part to turn it into whatever it is you're creating.
WKMG: Is this neat for you because you come from the marketing side of business? And in the same vein, is it sometimes frustrating when something doesn’t go right?
Mindy Beegle: There's always ups and downs. What's really cool about it is there's always something different. Right now, it can be something in the medical field, the food industry or sports. I mean, there's all sorts of applications, so everyday it's something different that we get to see. To your point it can also be frustrating when something doesn't print right the first time or quite work out like the customer is hoping.
WKMG: And printing is not a one-two-three step and be back in 10 minutes?
Mindy Beegle: It's not quick. It's not like you might think. You don't just press a button and there you have it. There's work that goes into it and the print does take some time to get done.
WKMG: Will we get to a point where everybody has a 3D printer in the house?
Mindy Beegle: I do think there will be a day when everybody has a 3D printer in their house. But I think the question that we have to answer before we get there is what type of content will be readily available for people to print.